Tony Zale vs. Rocky Graziano I

Between 1975 and 1979, Ernest Barbella served as vice president of the New York region at Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, based out of Garden City, New York. In 1948, Ernest Barbella was invited to view the pre-match training regimen of Rocky Graziano, a relative of his.

Each of Rocky Graziano’s three matches with Tony Zale have gone on to be remembered as classics. The first of these three bouts, however, is regarded as one of the greatest fights of all time and considered by many experts to be the best of the 1940s. The contest, which took place before a raucous crowd of 40,000 New Yorkers packed into Yankee Stadium, was for the middleweight championship of the world. Titleholder Zale, after winning the National Boxing Association and New York middleweight titles in 1940 and 1941, respectively, had enlisted in the US Army following Pearl Harbor and had not boxed for a full five years.

Graziano was the heavy favorite entering the match; however, a first-round knockdown of Graziano proved that Zale still had the firepower necessary to hold onto his belt. The tide turned and by the fifth round the crowd was urging for the fight to be stopped as Zale, appearing to be worn down, was enduring a serious beating from Graziano.

In the very next round, Zale gathered himself and delivered a devastating blow to his opponent’s heart, dropping Graziano, who rose only to take a crushing left hook to his chin, which put him down for the full ten count. Not only does the match rank among the most memorable of the decade, but the International Ratings Panel of the Ring magazine named it the fourth-greatest bout of all time.

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